“Come my friends, / Tis not too late to seek a newer world. / Push off, and sitting well in order smite / The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds / To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western stars, until I die.”
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson “Ulysses” ll. 56-61
“So what do you think - wanna go?” Lilia asked us.
Daniella and I looked at her, shrugged, and grinned. “Sure.”
It’s interesting the things you get yourself into with that stupid four-letter word. Hiking Timp does sound fun, doesn’t it? It sounds thrilling. And hiking all night to get to the top in time to watch the sun come up - wow. Romantic beyond a writer’s dreams.
We began at the bottom at 1:30am - and it was beautiful. The mountains created this blue-velvet bowl, subtle-soft all around us. And above us the sky stretched black and round, filled with fat blurred stars. As we walked in a line, the earth pale and white and drawn with shadows, I could look up and see those stars cradled in the pallid arms of birch trees.
After a time, we reached the waterfall. It roared in our ears and echoed against the mountains and, in the darkness, looked like liquid lightning tumbling out of the slopes, white as glory. And as we stood upon the cliff to look, our shadows were monstrous and huge against the mountains as other people shined their flashlights.
We thought of how far we’d come and looked back, impressed at our progress. Those who had done it before sneered at us and laughed, grim as the Fates. But we didn’t listen. We went on. There were many groups of hikers, following each other in long silent lines, stumbling up the mountain in the dark. The creepiness slowly radiated into me - all of us walking slow and silent, in multiplied solitude, up the mountain with flashlights like lanterns - stumbling together like a line of mourning ghosts. And every once in a while, we’d see people at the side of the road letting us pass. They’d stand absolutely still and silent and they’d look unreal, staring at us intensely, unblinking, as we tripped by - guardians of a new existence. And all the world was made of contrast - paleness and shadow, shadow and blackness, creating reality out of nothingness, painting mountains that don’t exist under the sun.
We meandered on for hours upon hours, trundling up the trails in long lines. Upward and upward, breathing in the moments that the trail was level, reveling in the moments it swooped slightly downward. Upward and upward forever, until we thought we’d tasted eternity, until we wondered if we’d ever done anything else, until we wondered about Babel, about building to heaven, about Kolob, and whether we’d just step off the mountaintop if ever we reached it and keep climbing, grabbing onto the blurred stars for hand holds and breaking away from Earth, climbing until gravity dies and we disappear from all we ever knew.
Finally, finally we reached level ground - the meadow. And we tramped along between the sheets of silk-black grass until we reached the sharp white glacier and the dark shimmering lake water, cold and green-black. And then, tired, between asleep and awake, half-dreaming and half-alive, that’s when disaster began.
We lost the trail and blundered across the loose rocks, stumbling and half-falling, breathing in the crisp dire cold. And a new eternity began, up, stumbling, running and slipping down the loose-rock slopes. Jumping up and up, farther and farther into exhaustion until we sit down upon the stones and gasp. Too tired - until the cold creeps into our sweat and shivers into our bodies and overcomes our exhaustion. And we battle up as exhaustion and cold battle each other. We succumb to weariness and stop - and then cold infests us and we get up and wheeze on.
Up and up and up forever. The sky begins to lighten and we reach a level flat where people lay out in their blankets waiting for sunrise. They won’t go to the top. But we keep going, bumbling upward so far beyond exhaustion that it doesn’t matter anymore. And that was when my nightmare began.
I happen to be terrified of heights. I adore hiking, and with my feet on solid ground, I happily look down on the long falls and shrug off the thrill of fear. Hiking I love - rock-climbing I hate. What begins next, as the sun comes up and illuminates Provo like a collection of light-backed jewels in the valley, as I see exactly how sheer and high I am, is a rock-climb to the top. And here it is that Daniella moves ahead of me, running up the slopes, and Lilia stays behind to take pictures of the dawn, and I move up slow and alone in the windy cold.
It was too much. My hands were numb and my face stung and I clung to the bare rock and tried to keep pulling myself up. I lost the trail and scrambled up shelves of loose rubble until I was sure I’d slide off the mountain and bounce down into the valley all the way to my apartment complex so far below. I admit that I stopped, sat, and cried. Then I sucked up the tears, gathered my courage, and forged onward. After another twenty feet, gasping and terrified, I summarily sat down and cried again. “No,” I thought. “This mountain isn’t going to beat me.” So I got up and tramped up the mountain - for another twenty feet, until I found myself on a steep slope far from the trail, with loose crumbling rock under me and shifting. And there I sat and cried again. If there had been a way to go down, I might have taken it even then. But going down would be worse than continuing up - so I was trapped. So I cried, took a deep breath, and kept going.
I missed the sunrise. By the time I made it to the top, the sun was a good foot above the horizon, big and yellow as a daffodil, and I was too late. I crawled into the little hut at the top and shivered as the freezing dawn wind picked at the few of us there. And then I went out and crept on hands and knees to touch the disk that marked the highest point of Timponogas. I wasn’t going to get this far and not touch the top.
Even then, cold and terrified and exhausted, the view pierced through my core.
When we were ready to descend, I asked Daniella not to leave me behind. She, knowing my absolute terror at heights, agreed. As we began back down, we discovered that only four of our original group of over ten made it to the top. The other one, besides Lilia, Daniella, and I, was a young man who - in my opinion - was flirting it up with Daniella. At her expression of the cold, he offered her his gloves. Since Daniella already had gloves, she told him to give them to me. He did so - but he looked a little ruffled. Even in my awful condition, I was extremely amused. I was even more amused that he kept trying to go on ahead with her and she kept coming back to wait for me. “You’re in way over your head, Buster Brown,” I thought to him. “But keep on talking.”
Slowly, hopping and clinging and cringing, we made it back down to the loose rubble. And there, I turned to go back the way we had come. “No,” said flirty-face. “Let’s go this way.” He pointed the exact opposite direction.
“I’m pretty sure it’s this way,” I said.
“No, no - look, if we go this way we can avoid all that loose rock, see? We go down toward the valley and there’s the trail and then we skirt around the loose rock and we’ll be back in the meadow in no time. I’ll bet it’ll be faster.”
I shrugged - I’m ridiculous at directions - and so we followed Happy McFawning-Bottom down the mountain. All the way down the mountain. On the wrong side. At one point, he wanted us to skirt a sheer cliff, asserting that there was a trail on the other side. I looked to Daniella - and she recognized my despair and skepticism - and so she skirted it and came back. There was no trail. Just more cliff. And then more cliff. And then loose-rubble cliff.
So we went down to the bottom and crossed the little valley. It was green and bright, but the slippery grass grew over uneven layers of rocks so we tripped and fell in holes and danced through the valley and scared the gophers away. Lilia and I fell behind and Daniella waited for us. Mr. Mayhem Trailblazer was gone. He’d gone back up the mountain and was nowhere in sight. And we were left in the middle of the valley at the bottom of the mountain we’d have to climb back up so we could climb back down.
You can imagine our despair:
Eventually we picked ourselves up again and saw another boy coming along the valley. It turned out he’d gone the wrong way too and we asked if we could hike up the mountain (all of the loose rock we’d so wanted to avoid, by the by) with him. So we and New-Boy went up and up and up the mountain all over again. As we rested near the top, I looked at the shiny pile of snow glistening on the shelves above us. And that’s when we heard it.
And the snow began to shift. I leapt up. “Run - run for your lives!” And we jumped up and ran along the trail as the snow - settled back on its shelf and didn’t move at all. “Well, that was almost climactic,” I said.
And then, as we watched, a fuzzy white thing came walking along the cliffs - walking happy-go-lucky on the cliff face, horizontal on the vertical plane. We awed at the goat skipped along - until it leapt right up onto the trail ahead of us and stopped to stare at us.
I didn’t know whether to hug the fuzzy thing or run for my life - not that I could run at this point. If that goat wanted to charge and knock me off the mountain, it could’ve done it just fine and it might have even been less painful for me than climbing down the mountain. After all, by then my knee caps felt like flaming doorknobs in legs of half-melted lead. But the goat just looked at us and ran up the mountain and was gone.
So we kept going. And who did we find waiting for us at the top? None other than old Gloveless Needs-a-Compass. He’d waited for us after all. So we dumped New-Boy and the four of us were reunited and we walked across the meadow to the old glacier and lake. After Lilia stopped to talk to some old Lithuanian friends she met there (what?), we kept going.
And that was when my hopes were up. It couldn’t be too much longer. It couldn’t. We’d already been walking for so long. We’d already been so far. It couldn’t be too long to the waterfall, could it? And the waterfall had been so close to the bottom - as none of us had suspected what felt like so many years ago. After every switchback, I looked for the waterfall - and after every switchback, my heart sank like a weight on my stomach. I kept trying to make the sound of those horrible clicking grasshoppers transform into that delicious wet roar - but it was just those irritating jumping things that kept flying about you like they were locusts and you were the only green tree for miles.
I’d been thinking a lot about life and the mountain. Back up when I’d been near the top, about to reach it, I’d decided if enduring to the end was going to feel like that, well, I hoped to die young. But then, there, walking down, every step jolting through my agonized knees, it was different. I kept telling myself, “You’re already so far beyond all endurance levels that anything added on to this can’t possibly hurt you. So keep walking, bub.” I did keep going - but I had only one pace left. And it wasn’t impressive.
Daniella, Lilia, and Captain Detour de Clever-wits would shoot out ahead of me - and then wait. And as soon as I caught up, they’d shoot out again. Meanwhile, I bumbled along at my pace, my knees creaking like they were going to unhinge and leave my shins somewhere along the trail.
Looking back, I think stopping for breaks, sleeping, drinking more water, and eating would have improved my outlook a good deal. As it was, all I ate was a granola bar and two bites of trail mix. But I was too tired to be hungry and now the sun was trying to bash my face in.
Still, it wasn’t a completely abominable trip down. In the sun, the mountains were green and gorgeous.
And we just had to stop to laugh at this fat bird.
He just sat there as we goggled, like he was too heavy to move. He looked like this big feathered beach ball with a bird head glued on.
Eventually, after pasting together a thousand eternities into one of those Christmas paper chains, we reached the waterfall. Daniella and Lilia went out to soak their faces - and Daniella told me to do it too. As I stumbled down and slushed straight into the water, Daniella said, “What are you doing? Now your shoes are all wet!” So I slushed out and then used the rocks to put my face under the cold rushing water.
And the last mile began. I walked alone, telling myself again and again that I was almost there, that it didn’t matter anymore, that we’d get to the car soon and all would be well. I passed by the cabin at the very bottom and an old man came out: “So, do you feel like a survivor?”
“Not yet. Not there yet.” I’m not sure what I said exactly, but that was what was bouncing around in my head. And then we made it to the car. And I got in and took off my shoes. And my feet throbbed like they each had an unhealthy heart beating inside them.
I began to drive, telling Haughty Cliff-Heimer to keep me awake. He did so by telling me how great a hiker he was - that he always beat everyone every time he went on long hikes. He said they’d give him all their backpacks and car keys so he could put all their stuff away by the time they got there. I was still sleepy - and now I was annoyed. “What are you saying? That I should have given you the keys because I’m Big Slow Marshmallow-Turtle Woman?” I thought.
He just kept on bragging and I ground my teeth. “You know, Daniella’s asleep,” I thought at him. “If you’re trying to impress her, you Ego-pantalooned dandy feather, you’d do best to punch her awake first.”
When we dropped him off and made it home, I slept and dreamed that I was still driving down the mountain from valley to valley, trying to find a place where my legs wouldn’t hurt anymore. Even in my dreams, though, there was no escape.
But it was romantic and adventurous and, whatever the case, we didn’t actually die.